Sunshine Girls signed for UK's netball league
Sunshine Girls Shanice Beckford and Nicole Dixon have secured historic deals to play for Team Northumbria in the Netball SuperLeague (NSL) - the elite netball competition in England and Wales.
The league, which runs from January to May, features seven teams from England and one from Wales, and the teams are comprised of players from around the world, including Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, England, Grenada, Uganda, South Africa, Wales, Namibia and Scotland.
Beckford, a student of the University of Technology (UTech) and Dixon, who attends The Mico University College, will be the first Jamaicans to play in the league.
Matches in the league are regularly shown on TV through the sports broadcaster Sky Sports, thanks to a major television deal signed in 2006.
"It's overwhelming to be part of the Northumbria team and get the chance to compete in the NSL," said Dixon, who plays wing attack. "All I can say is that hard work does pay off and whatever anyone wants to be in life or achieve in life, it can be done with hard work and determination.
"It was, and still is, a 'wow' moment for me, knowing I've done so well in my career, that Northumbria is my next destination," added Dixon. "I am so excited to be on my way to join the other players, and I can say confidently that I am ready to go beyond my best."
Beckford said she was humbled by her selection.
"It's an honour to be joining TN and to be playing in the NSL. I'm so excited. I just can't wait to jump on a plane and join the guys in Newcastle," she said.
The signing of Dixon and Beckford is the end result of months of hard work by Northumbria University's High Performance Sport Manager, Katy Storie. The former England Rugby Union star flew to Sydney on a World Cup recruitment mission. There, Storie had final discussions with Jamaica's netball chiefs after the initial contact made in June.
"To have players that have had international experience at the highest level will always enhance a team. Jamaica is ranked fourth in the world and we will encourage Shanice and Nicole to bring their own flair to add to our game," said TeAroha Keenan, TN's Head of Performance Netball.
"I am very pleased to have them both included in our roster for Team Northumbria NSL 2016."
Netball Jamaica sees the NSL as an ideal platform to blood its senior internationals, with more players set to follow Beckford and Dixon next season.
"Having impressed during their high-school and Under-21 careers, through to the Netball World Cup in Sydney, the move to TN was a natural step in the development of their careers," said Netball Jamaica President Marva Bernard.
"Their association with TN will see them exposed to high-level netball on a weekly basis and this will undoubtedly add immense value to them, both as individual players and to the Netball Jamaica senior programme," Bernard
"Shanice and Nicole are expected to blaze a trail for others to follow in years to come, and we'd like to wish them all the best and every success ahead of the new NSL season."